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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Richard Wagamese

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1211599,547 (4.29)30
Title:Indian Horse
Authors:Richard Wagamese
Info:Douglas & Mcintyre (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Canadian, Read but unowned
Tags:Ontario, residential schools, hockey, Ojibway, racism, Canada Reads 2013

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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (2012)

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    The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Iudita)
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    Motorcycles & Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor (unaluna)
    unaluna: If you liked Indian Horse, I think you'd like this one as well. It's insightful, sensitive and very witty.

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Richard Wagamese writes lovely descriptive passages, and I enjoyed reading about Saul Indian Horse's early years with his grandmother. I watch hockey occasionally during the finals, but I'm not a big hockey fan, so I ended up skipping over large portions of the book that dealt with hockey. I found the information about the Indian residential schools very interesting (and tragic), and like many of us, find it difficult to understand how church-run schools could have treated children so badly.
  REDonald | Apr 26, 2014 |
In Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese recounts the life of a northern Ojibway, Saul Indian Horse, as he embarks on a healing journey to come to terms with the truth about his experience in a native residential school. His unbreakable bond with the land and his strong spiritual connections ultimately save him from alcoholism, but the abuse he suffered and the racism he endured have tainted all of his life experiences. Even his beloved hockey, which at first seems to save him from the residential school abuse, is in fact inextricably linked to it. It makes you ashamed to be a citizen of a country that inflicted this on their aboriginal people. A well-deserved people's-choice winner on 2013's Canada Reads. ( )
  Lindsay_W | Jan 14, 2014 |
The book is set mostly in the 1950s and 1960s. Residential schools were set up by Christian groups to rid the Indians of their language and culture. Saul Indian Horse is still a little boy when he loses his entire family and is taken to a residential school in Ontario. While there, he teaches himself to play hockey and loses himself in the game. He becomes an amazing player and hockey continues to be his life when a family “adopts” him into their home and brings him out of the residential school after 7 years there. The book follows Saul as he becomes an adult, and everything he goes through.

To be honest, I wasn't completely sure what I would think of this book, but I was really impressed. This was really good. Hockey was an important part of the book, but I don't think you need to be a hockey fan to like the book. (I should add, though, that I used to be a big hockey fan, though it's been a long time since I've been interested.) There are sections of the book where the descriptions of the hockey do dominate, but I think there is enough of a story otherwise to keep even those who don't like hockey interested. ( )
  LibraryCin | Sep 6, 2013 |
A CBC Canada Reads book, top 100 Globe and Mail listed, critically acclaimed, much discussed, Richard Wagamese's novel Indian Horse is deserving not only of accolades but your time. This is simply an excellent, fundamentally Canadian novel, beautifully and sparingly written, with grace, poise, banked passion and heartbreaking insight.

Although a work of fiction, Wagamese draws from the lives of people he has known and lost, and because of that resonates with much earlier works by other great authors who wrote about similar struggles: John Howard Griffin's seminal work, Black Like Me, and even the now classic novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Wagamese tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, from happy Ojibway boy in Canada's bush, to bitter urban man who is flotsam in the wreckage created by white oppression, residential school brutality and hypocritical Canadian society. But this is also a story of discovery, of hope, of healing. And should be required reading for every individual in this nation.

Much of Saul's insight and struggle revolves around the boon and bane of hockey, which in essence becomes a metaphor for his life. His triumphs on the ice are the triumphs of his soul. His defeats and destruction at the hands of players and fans is his defeat in residential school, the logging camps and mines. The epiphany and vision he finds in hockey, is the epiphany and vision he finds for his own life. One universe coexists in tandem with the other. And all of this told in a highly readable and compelling manner.

If you haven't already read Indian Horse I urge you to go out right now and purchase a copy. ( )
  fiverivers | Aug 15, 2013 |
The narrator of this novel is Saul Indian Horse, a First Nations former hockey star undergoing treatment for alcoholism. In rehab he is encouraged to tell his story as a form of healing and so he writes what amounts to his autobiography.

Saul is an Ojibway from northern Ontario; at the age of eight, in the early 1960s, he is placed in a government-sanctioned, church-run residential school where “There were no grades or examinations. The only test was our ability to endure.” There, like so many Native children, he experiences and/or witnesses beatings, rapes, and countless humiliations. He describes life at the school, the place which “took all the light from my world,” as hell on earth: “When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals, are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

What saves Saul is the game of hockey introduced to him by a young priest, a game for which Saul proves to have an almost preternatural understanding. His natural talent and determination to perfect his skills make a career in the sport a possibility, but as his opportunities increase so does the racism he faces.

I know a bit about the abuse faced by children who were forcibly removed from their families and suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in residential schools, but this is the first novel I have read written from the perspective of a survivor. It is the details of the abuse that are shocking, but it is their very specificity that adds credibility to this work of fiction. The author’s emotionally restrained style in which he avoids gratuitous details and an accusatory tone - and even remains polite - ensures that the reader cannot dismiss the novel as a bitter diatribe which exaggerates for the sake of effect.
It is clear who bears responsibility for the abuse and its consequences for future generations, but Saul is also given some advice about healing: “’They scooped out our insides, Saul. We’re not responsible for that. We’re not responsible for what happened to us. None of us are. . . . But our healing – that’s up to us. That’s what saved me. Knowing it was my game.’”

The one part of the book I did not enjoy is the descriptions of the many hockey games. I am not a fan of hockey (a blasphemous admission for a Canadian) and know little about it and so found my eyes glazing over in the sections detailing technicalities of the sport. It is not necessary to become tediously repetitive to make it obvious that hockey provides an escape Saul and that he is an exceptionally talented player. I will admit, however, that the use of Canada’s national game as a metaphor for Saul’s plight (and that of other aboriginal youth) is genius: a young man has the talent and work ethic to strive for the dream of Canadian youth – a shot at the National Hockey League – but the dream may be unattainable because of systemic racism.

Stories are an integral part of Saul’s culture. One man tells Saul, “’Ojibways are the best storytellers I know’” although Saul thinks that his people have “stepped beyond the influence of our legends. That was a border my generation crossed, and we pine for a return.” But in rehab Saul is told that it is necessary for him to know and understand his story in order to heal his broken spirit. Likewise, it is necessary for all of us to know and understand our hiSTORY.

I’m starting a list of should-read novels for all Canadians; in the First Nations category, I have thus far included "Three Day Road" by Joseph Boyden and "Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul" by David Adams Richards. "Indian Horse" now joins the list. It forces us to face the shameful part of our history in which it was not the victims of residential schools that were the savages. ( )
  Schatje | Jul 17, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Saul is portrayed clearly enough to function as a believable, engaging narrator, but he also operates as a kind of allegorical figure in a larger, spiritual drama of personal and communal trauma, endurance, and recovery.

Wagamese pulls off a fine balancing act: exposing the horrors of the country’s residential schools while also celebrating Canada’s national game.
Wagemese’s writing qualifies as an act of courage, for we are in the midst of one of the most effective silencing campaigns in generations: People who dare to address historical wrongs are regularly accused of whining; unbelievably, the word “victim” has become a derogatory term. Yet, Wagamese writes without apology; and with such specificity and emotional restraint the reader sometimes forgets to breathe....In addition to individual words and phrases, he weaves in Ojibway legends. In this way Wagamese crafts an unforgettable work of art.
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I come in to the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
For my wife, Debra Powell, for allowing me to bask in her light and become more.
First words
My name is Saul Indian Horse.
When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That's what they inflicted on us.
Our legends tell of how we emerged from the womb of out Mother Earth; Aki is the name we have for her. We sprang forth intact, with Aki's heartbeat thrumming in our ears, prepared to become her stewards and protectors. When I was born our people still talked this way. We had not yet stepped beyond the influence of our legends. That was a border my generation crossed, and we pine for a return that has never come to be.
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Saul Indian Horse is dying. Tucked away in a hospice high above the clash and clang of a big city, he embarks on a marvellous journey of imagination back through the life he led as a northern Ojibway, with all its sorrows and joys.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he's sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement.

Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man. Evaluated and Approved by ERAC
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